Posting Kid Photos Online (Means Your Parenting Sucks?)
Earlier this week, Amy Webb wrote an opinion piece for Slate entitled “We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online.” In my family, I’m the go-to person for thoughts about technology, so when my cousin asked my opinion about posting kid photos online, here’s what I had to say:
First, I want to separate the author from the article because – and maybe it’s just me – I think she’s cuckoo bananas. She writes with smug pride about the fact she Google and KnowEm searched her kid’s name and has gone to great lengths to “create a digital trust fund” for her daughter. Which to me is just plain wacky (and this is coming from me, someone who’s already created a website for my kid).
Who is Amy Webb, you ask?
Check out this other article she wrote about technology and parenting for Slate (“I Measure Every Single Thing My Child Does”). She’s also known for writing a hotly debated book about how she gamed the online dating world (Data: A Love Story) to find a husband. So it’s pretty well established that she’s controversial, at best.
But let’s just focus on the article for a moment. There are a few things there that are technically inconclusive: her understanding and explanation of face-recognition technology is particularly off, for example.
The central question of the article is this: Is it ever a good idea to post images or information about your child online? Or does it risk — as Webb suggests her friend is –“robbing her of a digital adulthood that’s free of bias and presupposition”?
Now, to be honest: I don’t really know the answer to that question. NO ONE knows the answer to that question. Even though Webb says, with unfounded certainty, “I also knew how those posts would affect [her] as an adult, and the broader impact of creating a generation of kids born into original digital sin,” the truth is, she doesn’t know. How could she? We’re not there yet, and we won’t be for at least another 15 years, if not 30 or 40.
I also vehemently disagree with Webb on her assumption that social media is bad and out to get you. She says she posts nothing about her daughter because “It’s the only way to defend her against facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining.”
That sounds like plain old fear-mongering to me. You could utter it in the same breath as “murder, child pornography, and abduction” a/k/a what every parent should, and does, fear. Sounds like she puts Facebook right up there with conspiracy theories and “Big Brother.”
(Oh, actually Amy Webb does think the government is out to get her online.)
We know Facebook is a vehicle for advertising. And the more we use it to share with friends and family and look at each other’s silly baby photos, the more we see advertisements. It’s what makes the world go ’round, and there’s no avoiding it. But Facebook is also a way a lot of us connect with our communities. If you’d rather connect in other ways, go for it. There’s no law that says you must participate in this way.
But back to the baby photos. For now, I think they’re (mostly) harmless. I am careful of images where kids are naked, or doing somewhat inappropriate things. If it makes you pause — even for a second — maybe don’t put it online.
I do think there will come a point perhaps when she’s 7 or 8 years old that I won’t post as much about my daughter. I will start to let her take ownership of her own digital identity. I will tell her all about how wonderful the internet is, and also teach her a bit of respect for its power. That’s all we can do as parents – guide our children through the world as best we know how. But eventually, what they do in that world (both online and offline) is their decision.
When my cousin asked me about Webb’s piece, she asked, “How can every stupid thing you do or silly photo affect your college entrance or job? Doesn’t everyone make mistakes?” I agree with my cousin here. If what you’re doing, whether it’s posting pictures or sharing a funny story, doesn’t stand out from the crowd online, then your child won’t stand out offline. She will be just one of millions of kids who grew up with their lives documented on the internet.
Which — if you turn off the fear for just a moment — can also be a lovely thing. I have a “baby journal” that my Mom created for me when I was little. I had every intention of making one for my own daughter, but I never did.Instead, I made her a website. Where I document her life and her beautiful milestones in photos and video, and the occasional bit of writing. One day, I will take her website offline. But I will archive it then so it becomes a digital version of a “baby journal” for both of us to enjoy.